Kate Chopin's story The Awakening and Charlotte Perkins Gilman's story The Yellow Wallpaper draw their power from two truths: First, each work stands as a political cry against injustice and at the socio/political genesis of the modern feminist movement. Second, each text is a gatekeeper of a new literary history. Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman seem to initiate a new phase in textual history where literary conventions are revised to serve an ideology representative of the "new" feminine presence. Two conventions in particular seem of central importance: "marriage" and "propriety".
Donald Keesey, editor of the critical collection Contexts for Criticism, describes "convention" for us as,
devices of structure and plot, techniques of character representation, and a vast reservoir of images and symbols are conventions that most Western literatures, at least, have in commonBut like the conventions of language, they have meaning only to those who have learned them (Keesey, 262).
Literary convention is on one side the particular tool or image; for example, "baptism" can be used as a literary a convention. It is a "convention" because it brings with it a set of inferences, i.e. rebirth, renewal, awakening, initiation, etc. This relation of the signifier to the signified is what Chopin and Gilman seek to revise in the conventions of "propriety" and "marriage". The preceding definition of "convention" leaves us with an important question, namely, "What if what the existing conventions imply is insufficient? What if, as in the case of Chopin and Gilman, the canon (as a reflection of society at large) has failed to recognize the feminine voice?" As these authors have shown us, when such is the case, one's "truth-speaking" takes on the sound of one crying out, of one rebelling. The revolution these authors bring comes in the way that they will use the same language, as in verbiage and construction, as their male counterparts but will insist that what is seen as a "male contrived language" be seen in full light of the fact that language is "a-sexual" and it is its use which engenders it. These women give birth to a recognizable set of feminist conventions based on the existing conventional lexicon. It is wrong to insist that a truly "female" voice can only be heard and respected in its independence and separation from the once "male" canon. It seems that the only chance for independence would come from the creation of a new language, concretely female and "Amazonian". It must be understood that it is no flaw of "feminist convention" to be seen in relation to male convention; in fact it is necessary, for what is the male without the female, or the female without the male? There was no "male" voice until a female movement emerged to pose opposition to it. The "male" voice which we now identify, before the feminist movement, had simply been the "canon", the sanctioned and the status quo. The relationship of the...